COMMON CORE... Follow the money to the Common Core's 'policy entrepreneurs...' With the Help of the US DOE, Policy Entrepreneurs Used Business Roundtable Toolkit Tactic to Hornswaggle the States on Common Core

The old saying goes that school curriculum is the only thing harder to move than a graveyard. The implementation of the Common Core seems to disprove this point. The politics involved is outlined below. The other element, and undoubtedly the critical one, is the concurrent adoption of two Common Core-aligned tests. And in a deep sense, of course, we're still stuck with the inadequate curriculum we inherited from the Committee of Ten. Same old refusal to recognize that not every kid needs algebra.

David Coleman of the College Board and Common Core...The National Review piece Common Core Validation Committee Member: 'Nobody Thought There Was Sufficient Evidence' for the Standards (posted below) led me to an interesting background paper from the November 2013 issue of the American Journal of Education.

"Evidence Use and the Common Core State Standards Movement: From Problem Definition to Policy Adoption" by Lorraine M. McDonnell and M. Stephen Weatherford University of California, Santa Barbara.

The paper cites the term Policy entrepreneurs, noting that they "promote a position in return for anticipated future gain in the form of material, purposive, or solidary benefits. They can occupy a variety of formal and informal policy-making roles, but the most effective ones typically have a claim to a public hearing, are known for their political connections or negotiating skills, and are persistent."

These policy entrepreneurs "use research strategically in defining a policy problem, framing it, and then shaping and promoting a particular solution." Even when this research is valid, it is subject to framing.

Critical Point: How the cause is defined has direct implications for who will bear the costs of a policy and who will benefit from it.

Therefore, those likely to be affected by a policy have a strong incentive to influence the selection and framing of relevant evidence. Finally, how a problem is defined shapes the policy solution proposed. So policy entrepreneurs promoting a particular policy option will select evidence that allows them to define a problem in such a way that their policy proposal becomes the preferred solution.

The nature of problem definition, then, suggests that although research results and indicator data play a role, other types of evidence may be equally important. These include appeals to values such as equality, liberty, and economic security. Metaphors may also be used to evoke strong political and cultural symbols (e.g., bureaucratic red tape, invasion of privacy).

Also noted: Policy entrepreneurs also often try to put a human face on a problem through the use of anecdotes and other narrative devices. Also noted: Policy entrepreneurs can disrupt a policy monopoly and effect major change, but to do so they need to redefine the dominant policy image using ideas that challenge it and capture the imagination of the media, policy makers, and the public.

The Common Core policy entrepreneurs have failed to capture the imagination of the public but they sure have locked in the media and the policy makers.

Then, The challenge for the entrepreneurs promoting national standards was to dismantle one of the most deeply entrenched and strongest policy regimes in US education: the tradition of each state and its local districts deciding separately what students should be taught. In doing so, they had to define a set of problems to which their alternative policy idea was the solution. . . The resultant need for interpretation allowed proponents to represent the situation strategically, attributing low achievement to states� variable and low-quality standards.

Moving along:

The Common Core's policy entrepreneurs also used research evidence strategically in how they framed its rationale, emphasizing global competitiveness because it carried great appeal among governors concerned about the economic health of their states--even though educators were less persuaded that this was a compelling reason for major curricular change. During this stage of the process, then, one particular set of inferences, among the differing ones that could be drawn from research and indicator data, were selected and framed in such a way as to persuade key policy audiences that common standards held the potential to rectify pressing educational and economic problems.

At one point, Governor Hunt compared the CCSS challenge to World War II. But there wasn't exactly an army of people drafting the standards. Three people were responsible for drafting the mathematics standards: Phil Daro, a former director of the New Standards project; William McCallum, a professor of mathematics at the University of Arizona; and Jason Zimba, a professor of mathematics and physics at Bennington College. Those responsible for drafting the ELA standards were David Coleman, the founder of Student Achievement Partners, and Sue Pimentel, the cofounder of Standards Work.

State department of education (SDE) personnel in states with standards that had been judged rigorous by external groups, such as the AFT and the Fordham Foundation, reviewed the draft CCSS to ensure that they met or exceeded their current standards in terms of parsimony, coherence, and rigor (the "fewer, clearer, and higher" promised by CCSS developers). . . .

Both the AFT and the NEA convened groups of teachers to review CCSS drafts. The AFT drew its group of reviewers from members involved in providing professional development to colleagues and the NEA from national-board certified members. The AFT math review team met four times and the ELA team three times.

Three times. Should we be impressed that it took more than two meetings to confirm the curriculum for the nation?

Then there was the validation committee:

the role of the validation committee. The NGA and CCSSO convened a 29-member committee, including 17 university faculty and 6 others working in research positions. The committee also included three teachers, two principals, and one urban superintendent. Their charge was to review the process by which evidence was used to create the CCR and K�12 standards and to determine whether the standards writers had adhered to a set of principles including "a grounding in available research and evidence." The committee could provide feedback to the standards writers, but it could not rewrite the standards. After meeting twice in person and through e-mail exchanges with the NGA and CCSSO staff, all but four members of the committee signed a statement certifying that the CCSS are consistent with the criteria established in the committee's change. Those who did not sign off argued that the CCSS are not sufficiently rigorous and that current standards in states such as California and Massachusetts were superior.

For other members of the validation committee, professional judgment was a major source of evidence. The compressed time frame and a realization about the limits of the research base meant that they had to fall back on judgments based on inferences drawn from their general store of expert knowledge rather than from a review of specific studies or even bodies of research. One member of the validation committee described the process in this way: �It was pretty clear from the start that nobody thought there was sufficient evidence for any of the standards. . . . The review process, in short, was inclusive and involved feedback from a lot of different perspectives. This is not 'sufficient research evidence,' but it is thoughtful professional judgment, applied systematically" (personal interview). Several members of the validation committee noted that familiarity with those drafting the standards was also a factor in the decision to validate them. Like the SDE staff, validation committee members reported knowing the standards writers and having worked with them in the past. Their work was known to be rigorous, and they were trusted. Another aspect of the validation committee�s professional judgment was based on their knowledge of current state standards and international standards and their belief that the CCSS are better.

CCSS Adoption by the States

Here is a key point in all this. Even the Common Core's strongest supporters assumed that it would take 3 years or more for a majority of states to adopt the standards. But the US Department of Education stepped in and the deadlines for the federal Race to the Top competition, which awarded up to 70 points (14% of the total) on applications from states that adopted common standards and assessments meant the adoption process in most states was shortened to only a few months.

Consequently, the process often resembled a political campaign targeted at individuals and groups who were likely to try to influence the State Board of Education vote.

Following Business Roundtable toolkits strategies (described in Why Is Corporate America Bashing Our Public Schools? the CCSSO and NGA provided a messaging tool kit that included answers to frequently asked questions, template letters to the editor, and a sample op-ed article that could be adapted depending on whether the author was a business leader, teacher, civil rights leader, or a parent.

The substance of these communication strategies highlighted central parts of the CCSS narrative: the focus on students' CCR preparation, US global competitiveness, the potential for commonality across states and local communities, the voluntary nature of state participation, and the inclusive state-led development process.

Look at the New York Times editorials and op eds and what purports to be news pieces, and you see that the press has made heavy use of this messaging tool kit.

The national educator, parent, education advocacy, and civil rights groups supporting the CCSS worked with their state affiliates and allies in providing information and other assistance.

This sentence has an endnote. I'm disappointed it wasn't in the text, but at least the note is provided:

One reason these groups were able to provide assistance is that 18 national organizations received over $50 million between 2009 and 2010 from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to provide information and help in implementing the CCSS. In addition, 10 third-party providers and 20 state and local education agencies received approximately $39 million for the same purpose (information compiled from the Gates Foundation and funded organizations� websites).

I've been hammering at this point for five years: The PTA, ASCD, AFT, NEA, National Writing Project, et al all received buckets of money from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to promote the Common Core.And they are still receiving it. See the Common Core grants for June-August 2014. Words backed by big money are quoted in the media. My words are what is known as spitting in the wind.

Common Core Validation Committee Member: 'Nobody Thought There Was Sufficient Evidence' for the Standards

by By Jason Richwine

National Review

Sept. 3, 2014

It's all too common: The backers of a broad-based political movement claim their cause is steeped in evidence, but a perusal of the research reveals more hope than substance. The Common Core education standards are a good example. As I noted last week, George Washington University's compendium of 60+ research papers on Common Core included just two focused on the standards� impact on student achievement, and the results were mixed at best.

The people who developed and validated the Common Core have themselves acknowledged its weak evidence base. That's clear from an article in the November 2013 issue of the American Journal of Education. Written by two UC Santa Barbara professors, Lorraine M. McDonnell and M. Stephen Weatherford, the article features anonymous interviews with Common Core's leading designers. The article's purpose is academic -- to analyze whether Common Core's development fits the social-science model for how research affects policy -- but it contains a lot of practical information that should inform the ongoing standards debate.

McDonnell and Weatherford are clear that research evidence did play a role in Common Core's development, but almost all of the evidence was used either to identify problems (such as America's poor ranking on international tests) or to generate hypotheses (for example, that higher achieving countries have superior standards). When it came time to actually write the standards, the developers could not draw from a large store of empirical evidence on what works and what doesn't. They had little to go on except the standards of high-performing nations and the "professional judgment" of various stakeholders. [emphasis added]

McDonnell and Weatherford give the example of learning trajectories in mathematics. While developmental psychologists have studied how sequencing affects math learning in early childhood, much less is known about learning trajectories in later years. So the standards writers asked for the "best judgments" of people who study math education. Regarding the frequent use of expert judgment in lieu of data, one Common Core developer told the authors, "We wanted to be able to cite non-peer-reviewed research because there's not enough research available, and often the findings are inconclusive."

Another developer said that Common Core is, scientifically, merely a work in progress: "If we waited for the perfect research to inform the development of the standards, we would never have the standards today. . . . As we move deeper and deeper into implementation . . . further research will inform future iterations of the standards."

After the drafting stage, the validation committee also recognized that the standards were informed by intuition as much as real research. According to one committee member: It was pretty clear from the start that nobody thought there was sufficient evidence for any of the standards. . . . The review process, in short, was inclusive and involved feedback from a lot of different perspectives. This is not 'sufficient research evidence,' but it is thoughtful professional judgment, applied systematically. [ellipsis in original]

The Common Core developers were warned by some researchers that the link between standards and achievement was tenuous, and that other reforms ("enabling conditions") would be necessary to see real progress. But, in the words of McDonnell and Weatherford: Common Core advocates understood what researchers were telling them about enabling conditions. However, during this stage of the policy process, they chose to downplay them because they would complicate the agenda at a time when a policy window was opening but might not be open for long.

None of this should be taken as evidence of a conspiracy. Common Core proponents believe in their cause and have understandably sought to portray it in the best possible light. And it's not implausible that the standards could raise student achievement, assuming that strict accountability measures can force public schools to improve. But the truth is that we know little about the connection between standards and achievement, and it will be difficult to justify standards-based reform without knowing more.

Ohanian Note: I disagree with this conclusion. It is a horrific conspiracy to standardize children, deprofessionalize teaching. . . . Yadda, yadda, yadda.

� Susan Ohanian


September 03, 2014


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